Talk Description to Me

Episode 24 - Coronavirus Under the Microscope, Trending News Videos, and Screens, Screens Everywhere

November 21, 2020 Christine Malec and JJ Hunt Season 1 Episode 24
Talk Description to Me
Episode 24 - Coronavirus Under the Microscope, Trending News Videos, and Screens, Screens Everywhere
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

So, what does this blasted Coronavirus actually look like, anyway? What is 'Now This News' and why is it clogging up my Facebook feed? And there isn't actually a TV in every dentist's office, is there? This week, Christine's curiosity takes centre stage, and it's JJ's job to keep up!

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JJ Hunt:

Talk description to Me with Christine Malec and JJ Hunt.

Christine Malec:

Hi, I'm Christine Malec.

JJ Hunt:

And I'm JJ Hunt. This is talk description to Me where the visuals of current events and the world around us get hashtag in description rich conversations.

Christine Malec:

In previous episodes, we've talked about the Coronavirus from many different aspects in terms of visuals, but one thing we haven't talked about is what the virus actually looks like itself. And so, JJ, I think you've got something for us on on some visualizations that have been done on the actual virus.

JJ Hunt:

Yeah, you'd sent me a fantastic new york times article called the corona virus unveiled. And it had some amazing images in it. Essentially, these are like atom by atom images and models of the virus itself. pretty fantastic visualizations. So there was a structural biologist named Dr. Sai Li based in Beijing. And, and Dr. Li used a concentrated fluid full of a benign, benign coronaviruses. So they've been made safe. And then, and then Dr. Li flash froze just a single drop of this liquid full of viruses, and used a cryo electron microscope.

Christine Malec:

Oh ya, I've got one of those.

JJ Hunt:

You got one of them?

Christine Malec:

Oh heah.

JJ Hunt:

Pulled it out, dusted it off.

Christine Malec:

Don't we all?

JJ Hunt:

Of course, well, you know, in this day and age, you need such things.

Christine Malec:

What kitchen is complete without it?

JJ Hunt:

Without the cryon electron microscope? And what Dr. Li managed to get was a screen full of viruses absolutely full of viruses. And in the screen mode, because this is a digital microscope. So it the images are on a screen, not through an eyepiece. It presents a dull gray image of, you know, flattened viruses, and they kind of look like these are like cloudy gray shapes on a charcoal gray background. So it looks like when I first looked at these image, I thought it was kind of looked like a faded black textured wallpaper. And then you can kind of tweak those images a little bit so that they look more like sonograms. So they're grainy, and they have more contrast. But they're still monochromatic. They're still all Gray's blacks, and some and some like dirty whites. But what was key for Dr. Lee was that the detail was there. So he could inspect the details in the image that measured in real life, less than 1,000,000th of an inch, just an incredible amount of detail could be found in these. And then another scientist, a woman named Dr. Amaro, she constructed virtual viruses based on these images using supercomputers. So in the article, some of the original gray images from those from the microscope have one virus in the in the frame that has been digitally enhanced or reconstructed. And they're in full color. Pretty amazing, huh? So flattened. The virus looks a little bit like a bird's nest that's filled with tiny round ears. That's really what it looks like. And then all around the circumference of this bird's nest are these kind of poofy trees...

Christine Malec:

Can we take a step back for a bird's nest? I'm not sure, I don't think I know what a bird's nest looks like.

JJ Hunt:

Of course, great. So round, circular, with a rim around the outside like a thicker part, like a pizza crust. Almost. Yeah. And then in the center would be where all the eggs would be in a bird's nest, okay. And that's where all of these little tiny ears are. So imagine, like, like I said, like a pizza with a thicker crust and then all the toppings in the middle or a bird's nest with a thicker rim around the outside and all the and all the eggs in the middle.

Christine Malec:

Okay.

JJ Hunt:

And that was the basic one flattened, that's what they looked like. But all around the circumference on the outside, sticking out. Are these like poofy trees, these poofy tree shapes.

Christine Malec:

Hmm.

JJ Hunt:

And that's what it looks like when they're flat. But of course, in reality these are spherical. When they're not pressed under a microscope, they're, they're spherical. So they're actually round balls that are full of these tiny ear shapes. And those poufy trees, they actually stud the entire surface of this ball.

Christine Malec:

Okay?

JJ Hunt:

Yeah. So the things that are on the inside that look like those round ears, those are actually coiled up strands of nucleo protein. And the trees that are studying the outside, they're technically they're called spikes, which is a really bad name for them, because they don't look like spikes at all, they actually really do look like poofy trees with a with a tree trunk. And, you know, and leafy branches up at the top. And these are proteins. And my understanding is and my understanding is not fantastic on such things. But these proteins are what latched on to the cells in our airways. And that's how the virus takes hold. So these spikes these tree like proteins are kind of what's to blame for how these things get into our system. And and the images they have where they've they've added color, I'm not sure if that if the color they added was random just so that they're they're distinguishable one element from another or if there's any basis in science to how they color these things. But there's one image that shows two of these, these spikes these tree like things side by side, and the one on the left, it kind of looks like it's made of a luminous teal squiggles. So if someone had a pen, and they were going to draw a tree shape, but they were only going to use squiggly lines, the one continuous squiggly line to draw the whole tree in like a very luminous teal blue. That's what this one tree looks like on the left. And then on the right is the same tree shape in a teal blue. But you can hardly see any of the teal blue because the whole thing is encased in blue clouds.

Christine Malec:

Oh.

JJ Hunt:

And these clouds are kind of, they're almost like a little bit rough and spiky, they remind me of like pot scrubbers like those little plastic pots, you might have Yeah, and so it looks like they're it's covered in these things like dozens of them. And apparently, these like blue clouds, these like royal blue clouds are actually shields of sugar molecules. And the proteins create these shields of sugar molecules, to hide them to protect them from our antibodies. And that's what makes the corona virus hard to deal with. That's what makes it stick is that these proteins will latch on to the cells in our airways. And the end, our antibodies have a hard time or a harder time fighting it off then other viruses, because they're hiding behind these blue pot scrubber clouds. Pretty cool.

Christine Malec:

Wow. If you didn't know what it was, and you looked at those images, what would you think it was? or What What? What did you know? What would it be like to just look at that? What reaction would you have without knowing its menacing reality?

JJ Hunt:

Ya, I mean, the, if I was just shown an image of one of these, they look kind of alien like cartoon alien. They're really wild. And they're very intricate because this these are atom by atom models or images, each. If you zoom right in on any one of these elements, you can get closer and closer and closer and see all of the details. So there, I mean, the attention to these details is amazing. And so you can just imagine worlds upon worlds of events and creatures and whatever happening in here in one of these, like there really is an alien like quality to them. There's an intelligence to them. It doesn't just look like a doodle. They really look like there's there's some there's something sophisticated happening in these image. And that's just purely based on like, as you say, just glancing at it. Like what's going on here? I don't know. But Wow, there's a lot.

Christine Malec:

So it looks like life.

JJ Hunt:

It does. It looks intentional. It looks like it's like it has... evolved. It looks like there are layers and layers and layers of things happening.

Christine Malec:

Wouldn't it be fabulous to do an entire podcast called the microscope?

JJ Hunt:

Oh my god, that would be awesome. Yeah. Well, we have them we have our cryo electron microscopes, so...

Christine Malec:

See, I could lend you mine and you could look through it.

JJ Hunt:

We'll do that. Coming next week!

Christine Malec:

Christine lends JJ her cryo electron microscope for an exploration of the microscopic world. Our podcast is a different version of news. And our goal is to present news from the visual perspective to people who don't see the visuals. And it got us thinking about the different and evolving ways that news is presented. And there's new media that news is being broadcast in. And there's just new ways that news is being presented to a visual audience. And so we thought we talked about some of the trends that at least myself as a visually impaired person, some of it I'm completely oblivious to, I don't even know that it's happening. And so one of the phenomenon is sort of little parceled out videos, if I understand it correctly. So JJ, can we talk a bit about that the new phenomenon and news coverage?

JJ Hunt:

Yeah, these trending news videos, and I've made reference to these once or twice in in earlier episodes, and I'm always kind of clunky about it, because I don't I don't even know what the names of these things are, I haven't yet found one, a name for this phenomenon, these cleverly packaged little news videos that are put out by all kinds of folks. So some of these videos are put out on social media, by, you know, traditional visual news outlets like TV stations, CNN does them Fox does them. Al Jazeera does that all the major networks do them. Other people who produce these are other outfits that produce these are journalists, but in in fields where they haven't traditionally done broadcast or image based, so like magazines, or newspapers, like the economist, or the New York Times, they have channels for these videos. And then there are like new media companies, they don't really do print news, they have some digital, written news, but almost all of their content, or these videos, and these are folks like now, this news, Vox double down news. Those are some examples of outfits that do this. And sometimes they're hard news, telling important news stories. And they're very responsive, they can do, you know, the emergency broadcast, or they can do whatever is happening in the news that day, they can produce these pieces and put them out into the world. And sometimes they're more like lifestyle stories, or inspirational stories, or cute animal videos. These are companies like goal cast and the dodo, they produce these kinds of videos, and they go out on social media, and they get spread around by people. Usually, these videos, they have a logo somewhere on the screen, you know, because you're they're being passed around so much, they need to have a visual logo, so they can be identified. It's usually in the upper right hand corner, sometimes it's watermark. So it's a little bit, you know, translucent. In some cases, these are just repackaged news broadcasts. So cnn will take their story that they did on, you know, whatever, political speech or a storm event, and they will package that story in one shareable news video. And they'll just put that out there in the world. But the ones that I kind of thought were interesting to talk about here are the videos that are created and designed for social media sharing. So these are videos that are not just taken from an existing broadcasts, they are created for sharing on social media. And the reason they're kind of important for us to talk about is because they're very image and graphics heavy. And some of them have interesting baked in accessibility. But they are almost universally lack audio description, which is kind of an interesting thing for them to be so closed captioned as they as they are, but they are they have no audio description. So they're usually very short. I mean, they can get up to like 10 or 15 minutes, but most of them more more like three to five, they're bite sized pieces of news, very easy to consume and extremely easy to share. That's the key is they want these to be shared. And they're short, they're so short, some of them even have a border, like the image itself, the video itself has a border that is in fact a timer. So it disappears. It goes along on the four corners, and the four sides of the video, like a burning fuse. And so it lets you know how long the video is gonna be. Yeah, it's a great little visual tool to do that. So you can take a look and you see it starts in one corner and starts disappearing like a like a burning fuse. And you can see Oh, well this is going to be over in a second. So keep watching. Yeah, really interest And a lot of the videos are silent. And an all of their images are accompanied with On screen text. So not necessarily closed caption, like we would think of in an accessibility way where there's like a little box at the bottom where there's a bland looking, you know, captioning. So visually, it's not very interesting, it's just doing a, it's doing an accessibility job. A lot of these are captioned, in great big bold fonts that are part of the branding, they're part of the video. And that's because these videos, that the makers want you to be able to consume these videos when you're on your cell phone, without your headphones in. So you can watch one of these videos, and almost everything, in some cases, almost everything that's either being said, if your audio is on or not set, it all is being presented to you in like, you know, half a sentence at a time in big, bold font, really interesting. And in fact, if they want you to have the sound on, sometimes there's a little icon that they'll put in the corner that says sound on

Christine Malec:

Oh, oh!

JJ Hunt:

Better with the sound on! Just letting you know in advance. Really interesting.

Christine Malec:

So where are you encountering these? Where do you find them personally?

JJ Hunt:

I get them a lot on Facebook. A lot of these videos come through social media. So they're either shared on Facebook by people I know, or they are sponsored content, you know, the algorithm suggests that I am a certain kind of person who likes a certain kind of thing. And so they'll find these videos that are aligned with my worldview, and they'll put them in front of me, Twitter as well, I get lots on Twitter. And they all of these places, or all of these outfits have YouTube channels as well. So you if you go to the New York Times, YouTube, or if you go to the now this news YouTube page, you can find all of their videos. And they have, they'll have series of videos on a certain topic or a series that are released throughout the day. So the confirmation hearings for the new Supreme Court Justice, they were releasing videos, a couple of these organizations, Vox, I think was one of them was releasing videos throughout the day of her testimony. So they would just take a soundbite of her testimony, but the time and date up at the bottom of the screen, maybe slap an intro on it, and just release them throughout the day. It takes them no time at all. And it costs nothing to release these things. And once they're out into the world. Now anyone who wants to comment on, did you hear what she just said, or I can't believe she was questioned in this way. And that can be you can attach that to your tweet, you can attach the actual video clip that is presented in a professional way. It's quite remarkable.

Christine Malec:

That's a really, it's an innovative use of the medium, really, because it makes things much more immediate. So you know, you see, this is something I come across on Facebook all the time and someone posts something it's from now this and I'm like, okay, I don't know what that is swipe, and I just totally skim by it because it's a video or something. So see just filled a knowledge gap right there.

JJ Hunt:

Awesome. Awesome. That's great. And you know, some of these videos have, they do have full sound like if they've got speeches, or sound bites, they'll have full sound and some of them actually go like they get taken a step further, like some of these organizations. Vox is one of them. The Economist does these as well. And AlJazeera has a whole series as well, that are kind of like their explainer videos. These tend to be bigger budget agencies, and they can back up their content with lots of graphics. So the graphics are often direct visualizations of whatever the voiceover is saying, okay, so if they're talking about here's it, here's a phenomenon that you're going to see during the COVID situation. There's a graph that is unfolding at an animated chart, right that is unfolding. And these are very popular. They're they're, they're, they're hip, and they're youthful. Sometimes the visuals actually have a sense of humor. I saw one video that one of them did and and someone in the middle of the video made a goofy comment. And they actually they shrunk the image down so it looked like it was being crumpled. Oh, and then dragged to the corner of the screen where they had the little icon for the garbage can and thrown in the garbage. And then they just continued with the video. Like, yeah, so they're kind of this is a new, younger, hipper, super shareable way for hard news and soft news to be spread on social media.

Christine Malec:

And I think the conventional sort of television talking had presentation of news has gotten busier as well and so popular Typically, from what I hear anecdotally from sighted people is that news channels channels that are devoted specifically to news where they'll The screen will be very, very busy. Can you describe some of that?

JJ Hunt:

Yeah, there are like a lot of that, like the 24 hour news channels, they'll have, you know, somewhere near the upper left tends to be where they have the main image, the video of the news presenter, or whatever. But that might only occupy a quarter of the screen. And then down the right side, and across the bottom, there will be a series of smaller boxes. So there might be something for a weather weather tracker, if you're watching a local 24 hour news channel or something you might have a one of the little windows will be traffic, or weather. So you'll get in the traffic section, you'll get video of various traffic cameras that are on in different parts of the city on on various highways and whatnot. And the weather will have maybe a scrolling, you know, hour by hour breakdown of the weather. And then there'll be in some cases, actually, one panel that's always ads, that's just running ads constantly all the time. Hmm. And it is visually, there's a lot going on. But what what's alarming about it is how much of that you can take in all at once like this is now so common. I would I would have to guess that most sighted people can glance at that, and absorb a fair amount of that information. If you then quiz them if they then turned away and you said, Can you tell me what the time is? Can you tell me what the who's on screen? Can you tell me what ad you saw? I think most people would be surprised at how much of that they they absorbed in a very short period of time. It won't last they won't they won't know 10 minutes later what they were looking at Hmm. But in the immediate moment, you can you you can absorb an awful lot of that because we've been trained to now they're everywhere.

Christine Malec:

Do you find it disturbing to look at? Or is it so common that you just take it for granted.

JJ Hunt:

You know what? I get really annoyed when I'm in a restaurant and there are TVs in the restaurant because these things are often what's on TV. Especially if you're in like a diner or something like that. These screens will be all over the place. And it's really hard to sit in a restaurant situation sit in any situation and and try and pay attention to the human being who's across from you when there's a screen even if the even if the audio is off a visual moving picture or you know, an a screen that has multiple moving elements to it is so distracting. It's very, very, very difficult to concentrate on the on the humans at your table. It drives me crazy. Back in my theater days I had I had a prof who used to say, don't never put a screen on stage, unless you want everyone in the audience to be looking at it. If you don't want them looking at the screen, don't put it on the stage because as soon as it's there, that's that's the only thing anyone's gonna look at.

Christine Malec:

Why is that? I can't relate to that. Why do you know why that's true?

JJ Hunt:

I mean there's activity to it. First of all, there's that there's the visual element. There's just so much visual activity, you would have to have fairly extraordinary happenings on the stage to compete with the light and the motion that tends to come from from the screen.

Christine Malec:

It mustn't be very disturbing or those kinds of presentations wouldn't be as popular as they are.

JJ Hunt:

Yeah, I guess there are a lot of us just we're so hooked to our screen that we forget that that's not how it used to be. And we're like there's always there's just screens they're everywhere. You can go into, in our neighborhood, some pretty decent restaurants that still have screens. You have to go pretty high end in a restaurant situation for there to not be a screen now.

Christine Malec:

What about other commercial... Okay, so I'm going to run through a list of places and tell me if you would see a screen so what about a bank?

JJ Hunt:

Yep, they're everywhere. But their screens are usually airing ads for bank the for the bank for the bank products, no gi sees that are coming out whatever. But there are screens huge actually. There's a new bank just on the corner around the corner from my house. And I was walking by and they've got a massive like the screen is probably five foot on the diagonal. It's a huge and the only thing it does all day long is run ads for the bank that you're already in!

Christine Malec:

Ok, a convenience store

JJ Hunt:

Yes. Now in a convenience store, you will sometimes get a monitor that's high. So like behind the counter that's high up facing the customer. And sometimes those are running ads. So there are companies that specialize in this where they'll put a screen in your store, and they'll just run their own ads. This isn't TV. It's a, it's a, it's a company that has got ad contracts to do this. But the other thing you see often in convenience stores funny enough on screens, is quite often that people who were working at the convenience stores especially if it's an independent, they're going to have their own screen for their own laptop and they're going to be watching their own movies or their own TV shows or they're going to be having Skype calls with friends or family in other parts of the world where they're just connecting they are on screen and therefore when you are at the counter you are on screen

Christine Malec:

Okay, what about um I don't know a Walmart? Other than in the TV department?

JJ Hunt:

Yeah. Oh, that's a good question. So no, I don't in the big shopping malls. They don't have that many... I think in most of them, it's been a while now since I've been there, but they tend to have more... if they're going to have ads they tend to be more static ads. Like like you would see on a bus shelter or something. I say that, but in fact bus shelters, some of them now have TVs in the bus shelter.

Christine Malec:

Oh!

JJ Hunt:

And those are playing ads as well.

Christine Malec:

Oh really? Those are not static ads anymore? Oh my god.

JJ Hunt:

No some of those are video ads as well. Not tons. But honestly Chris, they're everywhere! Dentist's office, doctor's office, you go to the physio, odds are there are screens that are either waiting room screens that just let you you know that they've got the 24 hour news on so you've got something to watch. Or they've got screens that are that have these custom ads running all the time. All the time.

Christine Malec:

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Coronavirus under the microscope
Trending news videos
Screens, screens everywhere